Sep 2, 2013
Fast food workers in nearly 60 cities went on a one-day strike August 29, the latest in a series that began last November.
The workers’ main demand is for a wage increase to $15 an hour. They are also pushing for an increase in the minimum wage.
The fast food industry has responded with a barrage of propaganda, excuses for why these demands are supposedly unreasonable. A spokesman for the National Restaurant Association, for example, made the claim that only 5 per cent of fast-food workers earn the minimum wage. But that’s only because the minimum wage, at $7.25 an hour, is so low. The median wage for all food preparation workers, which includes those who’ve worked their way up, is only $8.78 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If the minimum wage itself had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be $10.64 an hour – way more than the average fast food worker’s pay today.
Bill Dunkelberg, the chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business, claimed that most minimum wage workers are “kids, students, and so on,” who come from “above-median income families.”
That’s a lie, too. Eighty-eight per cent of those on minimum wage are not teenagers, they’re 20 years old or older, with 36% over 40 years old. On average, they earn half of their family’s total income, and 55% are full-time. In the food industry, only 16% of workers are teenagers.
Many fast food workers are forced to work irregular schedules at the whim of their employers, and they often work unpaid hours. Managers make workers continue cleaning or stocking supplies after they have clocked out. A survey of fast food workers in New York found that 84% had experienced some form of wage theft.
The fact that the strikes are nationwide is an indication that some big unions have played at least some role in organizing them – and they should. They should be playing an even bigger role, in fact, since they have the forces to make sure that a strike like this is able to really impact the big financial interests that stand behind the fast food industry.
But whether or not they do, the experience these workers gained, and the courage they found to stand up, can allow them to continue this fight – and be a catalyst for other fights.